The spotlight has been slowly dimming on Emerson's dance program since an external review board recommended its elimination in 2003. Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) dance majors have had to adjust to the reality that the class of 2007 will be the last to graduate from Emerson with a major in dance. Now, these students are faced with the departure of the chairman, creator and only full-time teacher of the program, who announced she will retire at the end of this semester.
Janet Taisey Craft, who has molded the dance program for the last 24 years, said her decision to leave Emerson was partially based on her desire to focus more exclusively on her own dance studio.
Craft is founder and artistic director of a small professional modern dance company called the Ipswich Moving Company.
The current state of faculty affairs is another reason behind her decision, said Craft, who is also the vice president of the Emerson College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (ECCAUP).
"I also have found it increasingly more difficult to fulfill my role as a faculty member and program director in the current environment that exists here at the college," Craft said in an e-mail interview. "As a leader and active participant in the ECCAAUP, I have worked hard for the role of the faculty for the last decade. It has been very disheartening to see the actions of the administration over the last two years and the effect those actions are having on the college."
Many dancers interviewed said they are upset about the loss of Craft.
"I am upset because I guess I feel like she was the only one fighting for us and now she's leaving," said Kathryn Phillips, a senior dance major. "Under the circumstances I don't blame her. I don't claim to be an expert on faculty negotiations, but from what she's told us, it's just gotten out of hand. She doesn't want to deal with it any more."
Craft said the decision to leave the college was difficult. "I've worked hard for many years to build the dance program and be a strong advocate of it," she said.
Craft said she has fought to improve the dance program but has been constantly shut down by Emerson in terms of funding. The biggest blow came when Emerson chose to cut the BFA dance major that Craft had strived to create, she said.
This decision came after the department was reviewed by a team of outside evaluators as a part of the college's re-accreditation process in 2003. After visiting classes and speaking with the faculty, administration and students, the evaluators, who were professionals in both theatre and education, determined that the department was striving to be too many things for its faculty and faculty resources, according to Dean of the School of the Arts Grafton Nunes. The final decision to discontinue the dance major came the following year.
This was disappointing to Craft, who rebuilt the existing program when she became chair 24 years ago. Craft revised the curriculum and reshaped the BFA dance major into a pre-professional program.
In her inclusive curriculum, students focused on the art of modern dance, choreography and the academic perspective of dance while being taught different styles/genres by accomplished guest artists.
Although this program is well- developed academically, Craft said financially it is severely lacking. For many years, the dance program has asked Emerson for a second dance studio without result.
"We were told that the college did not have the resources to support the dance program," Craft said.
Senior dance major Susan Brown said she is confused by Emerson's "lack of resources."
"I just don't understand the purpose of purchasing the Paramount [Theatre] and bragging about how amazing it will be for all of the [performing arts] students when we'll all be gone," Brown said. "BA Musical Theatre no longer exists and dance is gone too, so what now?"
With Craft gone, many dance students feel they will not only lose their biggest champion, but also a friend and mentor.
"Janet is like a second mother to most of us," Brown said. "She will be missed ... She has been here since the beginning of the dance program and has been fighting to really keep all of the things that are important to the dance majors and even the rest of the school."
Chair for the Performing Arts Department Maureen Shea said she will also feel the void left by Craft.
"I have known her for the past 17 years, I have collaborated with her as an artist, I have valued her as a colleague and I will miss her," Shea said in an e-mail. "Her commitment to dance at Emerson has been passionate and tireless."
Craft fought back tears when she discussed her retirement.
"It was a really difficult decision," she said. "My choice, of course, would be to leave a vibrant program that I know will continue on."
Although Craft will leave with the BFA dance major in its final year, she said there is still hope for dance to continue through the dance minor and extracurricular programs.
Craft said, "My hope would be that dance will become redefined at Emerson and will play a role in the student's education."